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Book Review

‘The Astronaut Wives Club’

7/2/2014

book AstronautWivesClubcoverCourtesy of Beaverdale Books

Review by Sally Wisdom

Grand Central Publishing

June 3, 2014

$17

HIV

320 Pages

In 1959, when the names of the Mercury Seven astronauts were announced, their wives were skyrocketed from typical military wives — prepared to pick up and move their families at a moment’s notice — to overnight celebrities. Life magazine documented their every move and paid them handsomely, allowing lifestyles beyond their dreams.

In spite of the inevitable competition among their husbands, the seven women bonded in a unique way, many becoming neighbors in their custom-built suburban Houston homes surrounding a swimming pool shaped like a space capsule. For “The Astronaut Wives Club,” journalist Lily Koppel interviewed surviving wives and astronauts and their children to tell this unique story and capture a period in history that now seems impossibly outdated. For the men with the “right stuff,” NASA demanded an image of perfection in their wives, their homes and their families.

While some of the original seven welcomed the Gemini and Apollo wives, others regretted that the circle was widening and the spotlight shared. Still, the women were there to support each other as no one else could when their husbands made terrifying journeys into the unknown. In the ensuing decades, their lives changed in ways that reflected society as a whole. Some of the marriages endured, but many did not. Some of the women pursued careers or other interests; others stuck to the role of hero’s helpmate.

“Madmen” images of mid-century fashion worn by ham loaf-baking, Virginia Slims-smoking women combined with a glimpse of the excitement of the space age make for an absorbing read. CV

Sally Wisdom retired from the Des Moines Public Library in 2011 and found her dream job at Beaverdale Books soon after.

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